What Happens to Puerto Rico’s Delegates?

Residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote in the general presidential election — that is a right reserved for states — but they can vote in primaries. In the Republican primary, Marco Rubio gained 70% of the vote, and won all of Puerto Rico’s 23 delegates.

Senator Rubio went on to lose his home state of Florida, and suspended his campaign. So what does that mean for the delegates from Puerto Rico? Each state and territory sets its own rules about when delegates must vote for the candidate they were originally bound to and when they can change. For Puerto Rico, the vote in the first round will be for Rubio.

At the Republican National Convention, each state or territory’s delegates will announce its vote. Puerto Rico’s will announce that they are casting their 23 votes for Marco Rubio. Once all the delegates have been counted, there are two possibilities. If one candidate has 1,237 votes, that person will be the Republican Party’s nominee for the office of President of the United States.

As of this writing, there are 944 delegates still available in states or territories that haven’t yet held their Republican primaries. It is still mathematically possible for either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz to be the nominee on the first ballot at the convention.

If no candidate gets those 1,237 votes, there will be another ballot. At that point, Puerto Rico’s delegates can vote for anyone they choose. Kevin Romero-Díaz, a spokesperson for the Republican Party in Puerto Rico, says that the delegates intend to vote together for a candidate who supports statehood.

Which candidate would that be?

Donald Trump released a statement on Puerto Rico before the primary, in which he said that “the will of the Puerto Rican people in any status referendum should be considered as Congress follows through on any desired change in status for Puerto Rico, including statehood.”

Ted Cruz made a single-sentence statement on Puerto Rico status: “Puerto Rico should be allowed to take an up or down vote on statehood, and if the voters choose statehood, Puerto Rico should be allowed to proceed with the process of becoming a State.”

Neither of these statements can be called strong advocacy for statehood, but Cruz is offering a clear path to statehood which is in line with both the U.S. Constitution and the status bills now under consideration in Congress.

However, a contested convention can end up with a completely different nominee. Trump has said that there would be “riots” if he reaches the convention with a strong lead and is not chosen as the nominee, but legally the convention could end up choosing Kasich, Rubio, Bush, Carson, or a completely new candidate.

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